Ferries fiasco: Demands for Derek Mackay to give evidence to Scottish MSPs

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Former finance minister Derek Mackay must give evidence to MSPs on his involvement in the decision to award the construction of two island ferries to Ferguson Marine in 2015, opposition parties have said.

Nicola Sturgeon said the disgraced ex-minister had signed the contract, but the “buck stops with me” when it came to the responsibility for the “multitude of failures” that have led to an overspend of millions of pounds.

A scathing Audit Scotland report concluded there was no “documented evidence” around why ministers were happy to accept the risks associated with handing the contract to Ferguson Marine, despite serious concerns.

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Derek Mackay and Nicola Sturgeon, pictured before the former resigned in disgrace in 2020.Derek Mackay and Nicola Sturgeon, pictured before the former resigned in disgrace in 2020.
Derek Mackay and Nicola Sturgeon, pictured before the former resigned in disgrace in 2020.

The Glen Sannox and hull 802 were due to be produced in 2018, but will now enter service in 2023 at the earliest, costing at least £240 million, according to an Audit Scotland report published this week.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes updated Holyrood on Wednesday, laying out the further cost overrun and delay, which she said was due to an issue with cabling that was purchased before the Scottish Government saved the yard building the ships from closure in 2019.

Asked about the contract by Conservative leader Douglas Ross at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Mackay’s position at the time was “a matter of public record”, but she stressed her Cabinet was one of “collective responsibility”.

Mr Mackay is now facing calls to give evidence to MSPs about his role in the decision, with both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats demanding he appears in front of Parliament.

Labour’s Neil Bibby said the public “deserves answers” around the scandal and about how it went “so catastrophically wrong”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon pointed the finger at her former transport secretary before accepting that the buck stops with her – but both dodged scrutiny last term by refusing to appear before a Parliamentary inquiry.

“We cannot keep getting useless answers from clueless ministers who take no responsibility for this mess.

“Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay must come before the Public Audit Committee to explain their roles in this sorry affair and shed some much needed light on how we got here.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said it was “awfully convenient” for the First Minister to be able to blame someone outside of politics for the scandal.

He said: “If we are to take the First Minister at her word, it was Derek Mackay and Derek Mackay alone who signed off on deals which are set to cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions more than originally scheduled.

“It is awfully convenient for Nicola Sturgeon that the latest scandal threatening to beset her Government can be neatly blamed on someone who has since departed politics.

“Derek Mackay should appear before Parliament to give his side of the story and confirm whether it is true that the First Minister and the rest of her Cabinet had no input into the decision to take over Ferguson Marine.

“Island communities have been let down and deserve answers."

Graham Simpson, the Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson, said: “It’s high time that Derek Mackay came to Parliament and explained his key role in the ferry fiasco after more than two years of silence.

“Astonishing amounts of public money have been squandered by the SNP on this, and Scotland’s island communities deserve an explanation for the interminable delay in the completion of these two lifeline ferries.

“But despite the First Minister’s efforts to conveniently throw Derek Mackay under a bus yesterday, this is not all his doing – the First Minister and the rest of her cabinet at the time can’t escape accountability either.

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“Huge questions remain unanswered and that’s why we need a full, independent public inquiry into this ever-growing scandal.”

Scottish Parliament committees have the power to compel a witness to attend an evidence session under Section 23 of the Scotland Act.

It was used for the first time when MSPs on the Alex Salmond Inquiry used the power to gain access to Crown Office documents.

Richard Leonard, convener of the Public Audit committee, said: “The Committee will take evidence from the Auditor General on his report at its meeting on Thursday 21 April after the Easter recess. Following this session, we will consider the next steps in our scrutiny of the report.”

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